Ultimate Freedom Trail Tour Guide & Apps – Tips, Secrets & More

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“… just the right mix of content to make for a terrific tour…” David J. Asher  “Saved me with visitors from the West Coast…”  Steve S.

Download the free Apps – use with the Guide or by themselves when visiting the Freedom Trail!

For the iPhone                 For Android 

The Freedom Trail Boston – Ultimate Tour & History Guide provides everything you need to bring your visit to The Freedom Trail to life. Use it to plan your visit, as a interactive tour guide, or even as a souvenir! Includes FREE STREAMING AUDIO NARRATION – a personal tour guide in your pocket (requires web access)!

The most comprehensive guide available, by far!

  • Overview and detailed background information for all 16 Official and >50 Unofficial Freedom Trail Stops
  • Side trips to Harvard Square/Cambridge, Lexington, Concord, Adams NHP, & Boston Harbor Islands
  • Available in print or ebook formats.
  • Print version retains ebook features with QR Code access to auto-translate and web materials
  • > 70 photographs, maps and illustrations
  • Auto-translate all major book chapters (with web-access) into Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and more
  • Access to additional free information including an interactive Google Map Tour, an Android app and iPhone/Pad app
  • Budget tips including the best free guided-tours, where to find a bargain lobster, historic restaurants, and even a harbor cruise for $3 (children are free)
  • Detailed itineraries for an hour, 1/2, full and two day visits. Learn exactly what to visit with your limited time
  • Child-friendly and family-oriented tips
  • Descriptions of all the events that bring the Freedom Trail to life including the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s Ride, the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and the Battle of Bunker Hill – more than is provided by any other tour guide


The Coming of the Europeans – Early Exploration of New England

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Extracted from 1632 Map of North America - source Map reproduction courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library

Extracted from 1632 Map of North America – source Map reproduction courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library

This is Part 2 of a series about the founding of New England. For Part 1, the Native Americans, click here.

In the 1400’s, even before Christopher Columbus’s fabled voyage to “discover” America, Basque fisherman commonly fished for cod in the area around what was to be called Newfoundland. In 1497, under the aegis of English King Henry VII, the Genovese explorer Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot), while searching for a spice route to Asia, noted a land with a vast, rocky coastline teeming with cod. Cabot called this “New Found Land,” and claimed it for England. By the early 1500’s, it was common for English fishing ships to visit and harvest the cod from this area.

In parallel efforts, in 1501 the Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte-Real reached what is now the state of Maine and abducted over 50 Native Americans; the Native Americans were sold into slavery. In 1523 the Italian Giovanni da Verrazano sailed into Narragansett Bay, near present-day Providence, RI, and spent over two weeks trading as a guest of the Natives. After leaving Narragansett, he sailed north and encountered the Abnacki on the coast of Maine. In 1534, Frenchman Jacques Cartier “discovered” and explored the mouth of the St. Lawrence river, claiming the area for France. (Cartier was later involved in colonization efforts, but these were abandoned in 1543.)

By the end of the 1500’s, European exploration in North America had become common, but was focused on fishing the plentiful cod. Permanent settlements did not exist and the fisherman-explorers went home as winter approached. Universally, the Europeans noted that North America was thickly settled with natives, generally described as handsome and healthy. And, the area seemed ripe for exploitation. European attention began to shift to the more systematic capitalization of North America. This resulted in the emergence of “trading companies” set up to establish permanent settlements to harvest the riches.

In 1602, English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold established a small post on Cuttyhunk Island (in the Elizabethan Islands near Cape Cod and New Bedford), but had to abandon the outpost as the group had inadequate supplies to last the winter.  During this visit, Gosnold is credited with naming “Cape Cod” and discovering Martha’s Vineyard. (In 1607 Gosnold was involved in the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America.)

In 1605, French explorer Samuel de Champlain, known as the founder of “New France” in North America, helped to found Port-Royal, the first successful French Settlement in North America. In 1605-1606, he visited Cape Cod with plans to establish a French base. This plan was abandoned after skirmishes with the Natives. In 1608, Champlain founded what is now known as Quebec City, on the Saint Lawrence River in Canada.

Englishman Sir Ferdinando Gorges, the “Father of English Colonization in North America”, was planning to develop settlements in Maine – then considered “the Northern Parte of Virginia.”  In 1605, he was part of the sponsoring group for an expedition sent to explore the area of New England under Captain George Waymouth. During his voyage, Waymouth captured  five Native Americans, who he brought back to England. According to some accounts, one of the captured Indians was Squanto – the same Squanto who was to play a key role in helping the Pilgrims survive their first winter in North America.  After 1605, many English voyages carried one or more Native Americans as guides and interpreters.

In 1606, again initiated by Gorges, the Sagadahoc settlement (also known as Popham) at base of Kennebec near modern Portland, Maine became the first English attempt at colonizing New England.  It was abandoned after only one year.

In 1609, sponsored by the Dutch East India Company to seek a northwest spice passage, English explorer Henry Hudson passed by the Atlantic Coast and up the river that was to bear his name. Hudson claimed a good part of the territory between Virginia and New England for the Dutch. Their first settlement, for fur trading, was established near present day Albany, New York, in 1615. Dutch colonization efforts did not start until 1624, with the land that was to become their capitol, New Amsterdam, not purchased from the Native Americans until 1626.

In 1614, the English explorer Captain John Smith was ordered by the future King Charles I to sail to America to assess commercial opportunities. Smith reached land in present-day Maine and made his way south to Cape Cod, making contact with natives and mapping out the coastline. Smith called the region “New England.”

During the mapping, Smith observed the land that was to become Boston. He noted a tri-capped hilly peninsula with an excellent harbor. The harbor was fed by three rivers and connected to the mainland by a narrow neck across a shallow back bay. Called “Shawmut,” it was important to the natives for an excellent freshwater spring.

This all was setting the scene for the first permanent settlement in New England in 1620, the Pilgrim’s voyage to what became Plymouth. But, that is another story.

Guide to Boston’s Unique Geography and Changing Landscape

Boston Primary Landfill Projects Since 1775

Annotated 1895 Boston Map Illustrating Landfill Projects

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One of the most fascinating and overlooked aspects of Boston is how much the land-form has changed over the years.  What you experience today is over 50% landfill.  Places you walk, such as the area around Faneuil Hall, were actually part of the harbor when Boston was founded in 1630.

When the first visitors arrived, they found a salamander-shaped, rocky, hilly, peninsula that was formed by erosion at the end of the last ice age.  Called Shawmut by the Native Americans, it was small, two miles long and only a mile wide.  It’s only connection to the mainland was the low-lying, narrow, wind-swept Boston Neck, which often flooded at high tide and was impassable during stormy weather – meaning the peninsula became an island.  During the siege of Boston, the British troops were effectively blockaded into this tiny island, without adequate food or firewood.

The peninsula was dominated by three hills, hence its early name of Trimountaine, which was later shortened to Tremont – a name that lives on in today’s Tremont Street. There was Copp’s Hill (in the North End), Beacon Hill (which had three summits and was almost twice as high) and Fort Hill (which was located in today’s financial district).

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Today’s Boston was created by a series of land reclamation projects, which started in a small way soon after the Puritans arrived in 1630 (you can see the 1630 water line marked in the pavement near the Samuel Adams Statue behind Faneuil Hall).

The major landfill projects took place between 1807 and about 1900, although some reclamation projects extended until almost 2000. Much of the land for the early projects came from the leveling of Fort Hill and from Beacon Hill. The largest project, the filling in of the Back Bay took, spanned several generations between 1856 and about 1894. For that project, gravel was transported in on a specially built train line from Needham, a suburb about nine miles away.  One of the first of the second generation steam shovels was used to fill the gravel cars for the trains, which ran around the clock for almost fifty years.

For a fantastic website, which was used to create the animations in the video above, visit the Boston Atlas. It is simply the best place to play with Boston’s changing topography, and was a great source for this post. Also visit the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library – a wonderful source of historic Boston maps, many of which were used in the creation of this post and the accompanying video.  For those interested in learning more, there is another interesting post from Professor Jeffery Howe at Boston University; for that post, click here.

Divine Paradox at King’s Chapel: the Puritan – British Disputes & Role Reversals

King’s Chapel

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It is universally acknowledged that the Puritans who founded Boston in 1630 left England fleeing religious persecution from the Anglican Church majority (Anglican was England’s official state religion). But the religious freedom they sought was self-centered; they did not seek universal religious tolerance, but rather freedom to practice their own brand of Protestantism (which became Congregationalism), and to build a closed religious-political society around it. Nowhere was this more visibly noted than in US President William Howard Taft’s 1909 address, where he said “We speak with great satisfaction of the fact that our ancestors – and I claim New England ancestry – came to this country in order to establish freedom of religion,” declared Taft. “Well, if you are going to be exact, they came to this country to establish freedom of their religion, and not the freedom of anybody else’s religion.”

In Puritan New England, citizens had to conform to the Puritan religion and rules, or they were at best second class citizens. Those who did not accept the constraints were prosecuted, often ruthlessly. Roger Williams (in 1635) and Anne Hutchinson (in 1638) were both banished over what today would be considered trivial infractions, but at the time were considered heretical. Later, the Puritans tried to peaceably drive out the Quakers, but when peaceable means failed, whipping and execution followed. Catholics were treated little better and were universally hated and harangued. Only members of the Puritan church could hold office, vote, or even own property. And, the Puritans ability to operate in this manner – largely free from normal English oversight and freedoms – was guaranteed by a unique Royal Charter which gave them significantly more autonomy than was enjoyed by other English colonies.

But, the most intriguing conflict was between the Puritans and their Anglican fellow Englishmen. Even though they professed loyalty to the Crown, the Puritans despised the Anglicans, resisted their involvement in New England’s political affairs, and actively fought the establishment of Anglican houses of worship. One of the key issues was that the Anglican form of Protestantism was much closer to the hierarchical ornateness and ceremony of Catholicism than the ascetic, Calvinistic Congregationalism, the defining standard of Puritan society. Even though Puritan government was open only to Church members, it had a representative assembly and established the Town Meeting management process, with relative autonomy and decision authority given to the local church and town.  This is a sharp contrast to the hierarchical British Royal/Parliamentary system, where power was held centrally. The Puritan New Englanders did their best to avoid English meddling or oversight for as long as possible; and they managed to do this for almost fifty five years.

No place in historic Boston does the Puritan:Anglican struggle better play out than with King’s Chapel, the first official Anglican congregation in Boston (King’s Chapel is Stop 4 on Boston’s Freedom Trail and can be visited on the corner of Tremont and School Streets).  Anglicans were present in Boston from the beginning, but they were second class citizens without many rights. As early as 1646, Anglican Dr. Robert Child and several others sent a “Remonstrance and Petition” to the Massachusetts General Court, claiming among other things, that they were not free to pursue their religion. In response, the Court admonished and fined them – e.g., their request was summarily rejected. In 1662, a letter from King Charles II to the colony was direct in requiring that “the freedom and liberty should be duly and allowed to all such as desired to use the Book of Common Prayer, and perform the devotions in the manner established in England, and that they might not undergo any prejudice and disadvantage…” The King’s letter was ignored. In a 1664 follow-up, Royal commissioners were sent to Boston to see that the King’s instructions were followed. This delegation also was ignored and King Charles became too involved with issues in Europe to pursue it further.

Finally, in 1676, to follow-up on multiple complaints, King Charles sent Edward Randolph to Massachusetts to investigate. His reports to the King and key ministers clearly noted, along with many other issues, the religious persecution of Anglicans, and included a discussion of British subjects being put to death for religious reasons and the Puritan laws against the celebration of Christmas. Randolph’s campaign against New England ultimately led to the revocation of the Massachusetts Charter in 1684, and the installation of Sir Edmund Andros as Governor in 1686.

King’s Chapel was officially established by the authority of the Lord Bishop of London in mid-1686. The first public service was conducted at the Boston Town House (the precursor of the Old State House) in June, and the official “King’s Chapel” congregation was established soon thereafter. But, the congregation did not have a chapel, and use of the Town House was inappropriate. The same day as his arrival in Boston in December of 1686, Governor Andros started aggressive steps to find a suitable place for worship. Rebuffed by peaceable requests to share space in one of the Puritan meeting houses, in March Andros demanded the keys to Old South Meeting House and commandeered the building for Anglican services – from this point, the building would be shared by both congregations, with priority going to the Anglicans. His requests for land on which to build an Anglican Chapel rebuffed, Andros sized a portion of the town’s burying ground, had the bodies moved, and a Chapel started. The original wooden King’s Chapel was ready in 1689, and the Old South congregation returned to their normal service schedule.

The current granite chapel was started in 1749 when the original became too small. The new chapel was built around the old wooden one so as not to disturb the services. But more importantly, Puritan and Bostonian law also indicated that if the walls were knocked down, the land would revert back to Puritans control. When the new chapel was finished, the old one was dismantled and tossed out through the windows, boxed up and sent to Halifax, where it was reassembled. The new chapel opened for services in 1754.

King’s Chapel Interior

Far more opulent than austere Congregationalist meeting houses, King’s Chapel was the recipient of many lavish gifts from the British monarchy. King William III and Queen Mary II (1689 – 1702) sent money, communion silver, altar cloths, carpets and cushions. Queen Anne (1702 – 1714) gave vestments and red cushions. King George III (1760 – 1820) donated more silver communion pieces. The silver pieces vanished when over half of the parishioners fled (they were Royalists) when the British left after the Siege of Boston was lifted in 1776.

As the first Anglican foothold in Boston, King’s Chapel presents a number of fascinating and almost poetic paradoxes relating to the Puritan:Anglican conflict. George Washington attended two services at the Chapel: the first in 1753 when he was a British Colonel and guest of Royal Governor Shirley, and second when he was President of the United States in 1789 – he sat in the “Governor’s Pew”. As a replacement for some of the silver that vanished in 1776, Paul Revere crafted several new silver pieces for the congregation as thanks for King’s Chapel hosting the belated funeral for Doctor/General Joseph Warren in April of 1776; Warren died at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June of 1775. Finally, and to come full circle, King’s Chapel became the temporary home for the Old South Meeting House congregation, whose meeting house was undergoing repairs; Old South had been so emblematic of the Patriot cause that during the Siege of Boston, the British ripped out the pews and pulpit, used them for fuel and turned the vacant meeting house into a stable and riding school for British cavalry. The Old South Congregation held services at King’s Chapel for five years, much longer than the King’s Chapel parishioners had held the keys to Old South.

In 1782 the remaining Chapel’s parishioners (there were many Anglicans who were Patriots, not Loyalists) resumed regular services; and in 1787, the first Anglican church in Massachusetts became the first Unitarian church in America. Today, the Church is an independent congregation affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association (which in New England was largely an outgrowth of Congregationalism), but offers a unique liturgy that combines Unitarianism with Anglican traditions. Perhaps this now represents the fitting marriage of Puritan and Anglican traditions and cultures. Huzzah, or perhaps Hurray!


Long Wharf – the Heart of Colonial & Revolutionary Boston

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From the beginning, Boston was a town linked to the sea, with its success dependent on maritime trade and industry. And, its most important gateway to the sea in colonial times was Long Wharf. Originally called Boston Pier, Long Wharf construction began in 1711 (when Boston was the largest city in the Colonies), completed by 1715, and at its peak was almost 1,600 feet in length, 54 feet wide, and capable of docking up to 50 vessels. It was, by far, the largest and most significant wharf in Boston and was to play a major role in Boston’s economic and Revolutionary history.

Bonner’s 1722 Map illustrating Long Wharf & the Old State House

The heart of Colonial Boston was the Town House, Boston’s official town hall, which was at the base of King Street (King Street’s name was changed to State Street after the Revolution). The first Town House was built in 1657 and burned down during the Great Fire of 1711. It was replaced by the current “Old State House” in 1713, and was the location for the British Government until they evacuated Boston 1776. From the Town House, a viewer could look directly down King Street to the end of Long Wharf, see ships coming and going, and keep the pulse of the town.

Paul Revere’s 1768 Engraving of British Troops Landing on Long Wharf

As illustrated in the famous Paul Revere engraving above, British Troops landed on Long Wharf to help enforce the Townshend Acts in 1768. The oldest structure remaining on Long Wharf today, dating from around 1760 is a building that served as John Hancock’s “counting house” (primary place of business), who in, addition to being the famous signer of the Declaration of Independence, was one of the richest men and a leading merchant in Boston. Today John Hancock’s counting house is the Chart House restaurant.

British troops departed from Long Wharf when they left Boston in March of 1776. It was the landing place for the ship from Philadelphia bringing the Declaration of Independence (first read to the citizens from the balcony of the Old State House on July 18the 1776), privateers and blockade runners sailed from its docks, and its warehouses held military stores.

Water Shuttle Landing on Long Wharf

Today, Long Wharf is a great place to gather tourist information, take cruises of the harbor, and is the docking location for the water shuttles to the harbor islands and the Charlestown Navy Yard (USS Constitution). For an excellent posting on Long Wharf from a series by the National Park Service on maritime Boston, click here. The Aquarium is located at the end of Long Wharf.

Prospect Hill – Key Fortress in the Patriot Lines

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When on the night of April 18th the British left Boston on their fateful expedition to capture Patriot munitions in Concord and the “shot heard round the world,” they marched by a hill just outside of Union Square, in what today is the city of Somerville. In 1775, Somerville was part of Charlestown and was located “just beyond the neck” that separated the Charlestown peninsula from the mainland. The hill is called Prospect Hill, and it was to play a key role in America’s fight for freedom from Great Britain.
In the British retreat back to Boston on April 19th, they diverted to go via Charlestown and they again passed by Prospect Hill, but this time in hurried flight and under constant fire from American militia that had gathered from over 30 miles away. (Prospect Hill was one of the last landmarks to pass before the British could reach sanctuary in Charlestown.) There was a major skirmish at the foot of the hill, leading to death on both sides. At the end of the day, American troops were posted on the hill to observe the British as they ferried troops across the harbor between Charlestown and Boston.

Two months later, immediately after the Battle of Bunker Hill, Prospect Hill was the sight of major American fortification and became the central position of the Continental Army’s chain of emplacements north of Boston. Its height and commanding view of Boston and the harbor had tremendous strategic value and the fortress became known as the “Citadel”.

On July 1st, 1776, George Washington had the new “Grand Union Flag,” the first official flag that represented the united colonies, raised at the top of the Hill. It combined the familiar British Union Flag with 13 red and white stripes. (It was not until 1777 that the more familiar flag with stripes and thirteen stars was adopted.) During the winter of 1777-8, after his defeat at Saratoga, General Burgoyne and 2,300 of his troops were housed as prisoners of war in barracks on the hill.In 1903, a castle shaped monument was erected at the sight of the primary American fortifications. Today, the view of Boston and the surrounding towns is still impressive.

View Prospect Hill – Site of Fighting and Patriot Fortifications in a larger map

Cambridge, Lexington & Concord: Freedom Trail Day Trips

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British Cannon on Cambridge Common

British Cannon on Cambridge Common

Cambridge, capitalized as “Newe Town” in 1632, is about five miles up the Charles River from Boston. It was established soon after Boston’s Puritan settlers arrived to provide a safe haven in event of an attack on the coastal Boston. The original village was located at the first convenient river crossing west of Boston, at what is now Harvard Square. Harvard College was founded here in 1636. The town served as the headquarters for the Patriot troops during the Siege of Boston.

Most tourists will want to visit Harvard University and take in the Revolutionary sites around Harvard Square. The best way to visit the area in a few hours is via a walking tour, which is offered by several companies.

I can recommend those from Cambridge Historical Tours, phone 617.520.4030, website here. The basic 90 minute walk covers the University and general Cambridge history; $12 for adults, $7 for children. For those interested in the Revolutionary-era, add the Tory Row option which extends the walk by ½ hour and costs an additional $3.

There are Free Student-Led & Self-Guided Walking Tours of Harvard Yard available directly from Harvard. For the self-guided tours, click here (includes a PDF map and audio files). For mobile phone versions of the self-guided tour, click here. For information about the free student-led tours, click here.

The Longfellow House, run by the National Park Service, is on Tory Row and is only a short walk from Harvard Square. In addition to being the home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, it was George Washington’s headquarters during the Siege of Boston. The NPS offers seasonal ranger-led tours, talks, and neighborhood walks. For hours and tour times, access the website here or call 617-876-4491. Admission is free.

Public transportation from Boston is easy and quick via the MBTA Red line to the Harvard Square station.

Lexington & Concord

Minuteman Statue on Lexiington Battle Green

Minuteman Statue on Lexington Battle Green

The nearby colonial towns of Lexington and Concord were the sites of the first significant battle of the American Revolution. A visit is highly worthwhile and an easy 1/2 to full day trip from Boston. Each year Massachusetts celebrates Patriots Day, around the April 19th anniversary of the battle, with reenactments and parades at many stops along the battle’s route. For more on the Battles of Lexington and Concord, click here. For a YouTube video intro to Lexington Battle Green, click here.

Most of the Lexington sites center on the Lexington Battle Green, at the site of the first skirmish. For maps and information, start at the Visitor Center, located next to the Battle Green. For Lexington information, click here or call 781-862-1450. There is a downloadable self-guided walking tour of the Battle Green area along with other information from the Lexington Historical Society, to download click here. Call 781-862-1703 to reach the Historical Society directly, website here. The Historical Society runs the Hancock-Clark House, Buckman Tavern, and Munroe Tavern. All offer tours by excellent docents and each offers a unique perspective. The Tourism Committee also runs free tours given by costumed guides, spring through fall . The narrated hop-on/off Liberty Ride, which runs to all the major sites from Lexington to Concord, is a fun way to travel and learn history at the same time.

Important visitor sites close to the Battle Green include the Minuteman Statue (paradoxically, Lexington never had minutemen, only militia), the Buckman Tavern (where the Minutemen gathered just prior to the battle), the Hancock-Clarke House (where Samuel Adams and John Hancock stayed the night before the battle), and the Old Belfry. The Historical Society runs the Hancock-Clark House, Buckman Tavern, and Munroe Tavern. All offer tours by excellent docents and each offers a unique perspective.

Just east of Lexington town center is the Munroe Tavern. The Munroe Tavern was the site of the British headquarters and field hospital during their retreat back to Boston. A packaged ticket for admission to the Munroe Tavern, the Hancock-Clarke House and the Buckman Tavern is available at any of the three houses: $12 for adults and $8 for children 6-16. Individual house admissions are $7 and $5 respectively. Contact the Lexington Historical Society to confirm the operating hours, which vary by season.

Concord was the site of the battle at North Bridge, but if you have time, it has a lot more to offer. For visitor information in the town center, go to the Concord Chamber of Commerce; open from the end of March until late October, and on the Thanksgiving weekend. Walking tours are available; admission is charged. The Chamber can be reached at 978-369-3120; to access their website, click here. To download a walking map of Concord, click here.

Important non-Revolutionary Concord sites include the Orchard House (home of Louisa May Alcott, where she wrote “Little Women;” admission charge), the Concord Museum (which has one of the two lanterns hung at Old North Church; admission charge), and The Wayside (home to the Alcotts, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Margaret Sidney; admission charge).

Most Revolutionary-centric visitors head directly to the Minuteman National Historical Park to visit the area around North Bridge. It is about 1/2 mile from the town center. For more on the Minuteman Park, see below.

For public transportation from Boston to Lexington, take the MBTA Red line to Alewife station and connect with either the #76 or #62 buses to Lexington. The ride from Alewife to Lexington is about 25 minutes. For the MBTA website, click here.

To Concord center, take the MBTA Commuter Rail from Boston’s North Station. The Fitchburg Line train stops at the Concord Depot on Thoreau Street. From the Depot, the North Bridge is a 1.5-mile walk.

For visitors to both Lexington and Concord traveling without cars, the best option is to travel to Lexington and take the Liberty Ride trolley mentioned above. The trolley stops near all major sites in both towns and provides hop-on and off service, giving the opportunity to hike portions of the Battle Road. It runs on weekends in April and May, then daily until October 28. Adult tickets are $25, children 5-17 are $10. It also includes admission to the Lexington houses mentioned above. For Liberty Ride information, call 781 781-862-0500, website here.

Minuteman National Historical Park

North Bridge from  NPS Visitor Center

North Bridge from NPS Visitor Center

North Bridge seen from the NPS Visitor Center

The Minuteman National Historical Park, run by the National Park Service, has two sections. The eastern section follows the Battle Road from just outside Lexington into Concord. The western section covers the area around North Bridge, just beyond Concord center. Both have visitor centers and ranger-guided tours and talks. All programs are free, with the exception of an admission charge to the Wayside; $5 for adults, free for children 16 and under. For full park information visit the NPS website here or call 978-369-6993. For an interesting website on the Battle Road, click here.

The visitor center at the eastern end of the park (nearest Lexington) features a very good multi-media show, “The Road to Revolution,” especially entertaining for children. The center also has exhibits, dioramas, and other battle-related information. Rangers are on duty to answer questions and there is a small gift shop.

The five mile Battle Road makes for a great hike and much of it has been restored to a state similar to Revolutionary times. Be sure to visit the Hartwell Tavern, which is representative of an authentic period home-tavern and has ranger-programs from May through October. The Paul Revere Capture Site, just off Route 2A, is a frequent visitor stop.

West of Battle Road, and the closest stop to Concord center, is The Wayside. In Revolutionary times, The Wayside was home to the muster master of the Concord Minute Men. Later, it became the “Home of Authors,” with its residents including Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Harriett Lothrop (Margaret Sidney). As of this update, the Wayside has been closed for renovations. The Wayside is next door to Orchard House, which charges a separate admission fee and is not associated with the Park.

The western section around North Bridge has a small visitor center set spectacularly on the hill overlooking the bridge. It features a few small exhibits and a very good three dimensional map that illustrates the topography of the important battle sites. It is located in a mansion that once belonged to the Buttrick family. Major John Buttrick was the Patriot who ordered the colonials to fire on the British at North Bridge.

For public transportation to the eastern visitor center from Boston, take the MBTA Red line to Alewife station and connect with the #76 bus to the Old Mass Ave & Marrett Road stop in Lexington. Ask the driver to point out the stop. There is no service on Sunday. To the western section, follow the directions to Concord center, above. The Liberty Ride stops at both sections as well as at Hartwell Tavern, Meriam’s Corner, North Bridge and other park sites.

Adams National Historical Park

Birthplace of John Adams

Birthplace of John Adams

Birthplace of John Adams

An easy, rewarding, and often-overlooked Freedom Trail side-trip is to the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy. The park includes the homes of American presidents John Adams (the famous Patriot and 2nd US President), his son, John Quincy Adams (the 6th president), and their descendants from 1720 to 1927. The park is right off of the MBTA Red line and is a simple, quick, and inexpensive trip from Boston. The park is open from mid-April until mid-November. Check their website here or call 617-770-1175. For a web-translation of this section, click here.

A visit starts at the NPS visitor center – access to the homes is only permitted via ranger-led tours. Tours run two hours and cost $5 for adults; children under 16 and holders of a National Park America the Beautiful Passes are free. Before leaving the visitor center, view the excellent short film, “Enduring Legacy,” that overviews the Adams’ lives and accomplishments – it is excellent.

The first stop is at the presidents’ birthplaces. To start, you will visit the wonderful, sparse, “saltbox” house (c. 1681) where John was born in 1735. Only 75 feet away is the house where John and Abigail gave birth to John Quincy in 1767. That house also holds the law office where John drafted the Massachusetts Constitution, which later served as the model for the US Constitution.

The next stop is at the “Old House.” Built in 1731, it was purchased by John and Abigail as a more suitable residence after their return from John’s diplomatic posting to London in 1788. The Adams family expanded the home from its original seven rooms to what you visit today. It was also home to John Quincy, his son Charles Francis (ambassador to Great Britain during the Civil War) and their descendants. It served as a summer White House and is full of original family artifacts and art that helps tell the Adams’ story – a real treasure to visit.

Adams Old House  with Stone Library & Garden

Adams Old House with Stone Library & Garden

Next door to the Old House, set in a beautiful garden, is the Stone Library, built in 1873. This serves as the John Quincy Adams presidential library and holds over 14,000 books, artifacts and family paintings.

Across the street from the visitor center, but not part of the National Park, is the United First Parish Church. The Church contains the tombs of John, Abigail, John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams, website here. Founded in 1636 as a branch of the Puritan church in Boston, this is the fourth Church building erected on this site. Designed by Alexander Paris (also designer of Quincy Market), it was completed in 1828, with granite and funding from John Adams. If you have time, take the brief tour of the church and the crypt; a small donation is requested. Tours are available on the same schedule as the National Historical Park, from mid-April through mid-November.

Boston Harbor Islands

View from Georges Island Artillery Observation Tower

Boston from Georges Island Artillery Observation Tower

A fantastic trip and relaxing change from Revolutionary Boston is a visit to the Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. At the Islands you can visit a Civil War era fort, swim, picnic, hike, bird watch, camp, enjoy a concert, or just delight on the wonderful, narrated cruise through the Harbor. For the younger visitors there is even a playground with an amazing view of the Boston skyline. The Islands are a cooperative effort between the National Park Service and various Commonwealth, City and private groups.

The park itself features 12 islands and peninsulas, and even the oldest active lighthouse station in the United States (used since 1716, only accessible via a special “Lighthouse Tour”); practically, you can visit a maximum of two Islands per day – visiting a single Island requires at least ½ day, but don’t rush. There is a snack shack with a seafood menu on Georges Island, but the food quality can be variable – so you may want to pack a lunch. There is an expertly-staffed pavilion on the Rose Kennedy Greenway between Quincy Market and Long Wharf to help plan your visit, purchase ferry tickets, etc.

Although ferries run from several suburban locations, most visitors will take the ferry the north side of Long Wharf (by Christopher Columbus Park); the ferries take you to either George’s or Spectacle Island. From George’s Island, during the summer, there are connections to other islands. Fares are: Adults, $15; children 4-11, $9; over 65, $11, inter-island, $3. Regular service runs May through Columbus Day in the fall, but there are various winter visit opportunities. Definitely visit the website for current and detailed visiting and transportation information.

There is a very well done Visitor Center on Georges Island with interpretive exhibits highlighting the Islands’ history, their role in the defense of Boston, the impacts of changing military technology, even the respective diets of enlisted men and officers – fascinating even for the non-military-oriented visitor. Unless you know you want your stop to be Spectacle Island, stop here first, watch the eight minute video and plan the rest of your visit. Rangers are there to help.

There are excellent Ranger-led tours of the Civil War era Fort Warren, which was built between 1833 and 1861 (self-guided tours are also available). During the Civil War, the fort served as a prison for over 1,000 Confederate personnel, the most famous the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens. Fort Warren remained active through the Spanish-American War and World War I. During World War II, it was part of the harbor’s defense from German U-boats. Over the years it was modified to accommodate changing cannon technology. It was permanently decommissioned in the 1950’s when guided missiles obsoleted cannon for coastal defense.

A visit is highly recommended and suitable for all ages. Handicap access, however, is limited; please check the website for detailed information.

Useful links for a Boston Harbor Islands visit:

  • The official Boston Harbor Islands website.

  • National Park Service website.

  • National Park Service map of the Islands, download here.

  • Boston Harbor Islands YouTube channel, here.

  • Ferry website.

  • The Boston Harbor Island Alliance website.

Georges Island Visitor Center


Freedom Trail Tour Guide – Maps, Sites, Tips & Secrets

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“… just the right mix of content to make for a terrific tour…” David J. Asher  “Saved me with visitors from the West Coast…”  Steve S.

Download the free companion Apps – use with the Guide or when visiting the Freedom Trail!

For the iPhone                 For Android 

The Freedom Trail Boston – Ultimate Tour & History Guide provides everything you need to bring your visit to The Freedom Trail to life. Use it to plan your visit, as a interactive tour guide, or even as a souvenir! Includes FREE STREAMING AUDIO NARRATION – a personal tour guide in your pocket (requires web access)!

The most comprehensive guide available, by far!

  • Overview and detailed background information for all 16 Official and >50 Unofficial Freedom Trail Stops
  • Side trips to Harvard Square/Cambridge, Lexington, Concord, Adams NHP, & Boston Harbor Islands
  • Available in print or ebook formats.
  • Print version retains ebook features with QR Code access to auto-translate and web materials
  • > 70 photographs, maps and illustrations
  • Auto-translate all major book chapters (with web-access) into Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and more
  • Access to additional free information including an interactive Google Map Tour, an Android app and iPhone/Pad app
  • Budget tips including the best free guided-tours, where to find a bargain lobster, historic restaurants, and even a harbor cruise for $3 (children are free)
  • Detailed itineraries for an hour, 1/2, full and two day visits. Learn exactly what to visit with your limited time
  • Child-friendly and family-oriented tips
  • Descriptions of all the events that bring the Freedom Trail to life including the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s Ride, the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and the Battle of Bunker Hill – more than is provided by any other tour guide


Freedom Trail Coupons, Deals & Budget Tips

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Boston is a big city with big city prices. The Freedom Trail, however, is a tremendous bargain. Here are some strategies that can help – and even let you include a lobster!


Mikes Pastry North End Boston

Mikes Pastry Boston – Fantastic Cannoli!

If you have a Smartphone, download the FREE app for the iPhone, here; for Android, here. This is a tremendous resource for the Freedom Trail, or for other areas including Harvard Square, Copley Square, Lexington & Concord, and even Adams National Historical Park.  Add-on the premium content, which covers many many additional sites and auto-downloads pre-Google translated versions in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese or Japanese!

Start by visiting one of the two National Park Service Visitor Centers, web link here. The NPS personnel are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and are more than willing to help you plan your visit. What they provide is completely free (paid for by US taxpayers), although you may wish to make a small donation. Their tours are very well done – as good as or better than the fee only tours. The new Visitor Center at the base of Faneuil Hall is a real showplace.

The National Park Service has produced a free app that can be downloaded to an Android or iPhone/iPad device. Search Google Play or iTunes for “NPS Boston” to download the app. Keep in mind that it only covers the official 16 Freedom Trail Stops, and there is a lot more to see. Use these apps in conjunction with this Guide and its maps for a complete guide to everything.

Most of The Freedom Trail Stops are free, with the exceptions of the Old South Meeting House, the Old State House, and the Paul Revere House. For those Stops, you can purchase a “Freedom Trail Ticket” available at any of these Stops. It will save you a little more than 20% from purchasing individual adult tickets, and tickets may be used over multiple days. Alternatively, you can purchase it online here, but there is no advantage to purchasing before you arrive.

Another option for visitors is to purchase a bundled package from the Go Select website here. This package permits entrance to the three admission-charging Stops along with other Boston-area attractions – including a guided tour from TheFreedomTrail.org (a recommended company), museums or a trolley or duck-boat tour. By bundling several attractions together, you can save +/- 20% over individual admissions.

The same company also offers a Go Boston Card, website here. The Go Boston Card is a multiple day ticket to a wide variety of venues. The Cards are expensive, however, and are recommended only if you want to see a number of the supported attractions.

Dining in Boston can be expensive, but bargains are available. Wonderful lunch deals are offered, including lobster, in the Blackstone Block area on the walk between Faneuil Hall (Stop 11) and the Paul Revere House in the North End (Stop 12). Several of the pubs mentioned in the Historic Restaurant section also have reasonably priced good food in a colorful atmosphere.

Lunch Specials in the Blackstone Block

There are many other good options in and around the North End. Several of my favorites are:

Galleria Umberto, for pizza-oriented lunch fare, is very popular with the locals. 289 Hanover Street (617) 227-5709 Yelp website (They do not have their own web site).

La Summa, old world (not trendy) Italian. Excellent for lunch or dinner. 30 Fleet St 617-523-9503. Check Restaurant.com for coupons. Website.

Pizzeria Regina, Boston’s oldest pizzeria, and one of the oldest in the US, established in 1926. The chain started here and this one is much better than the branches. Be prepared to wait for dinner. 11 1/2 Thacher Street. 617-227-0765 Website.

Pastry at Mike’s on Hanover Street

There are two well-known and excellent Italian pastry shops on Hanover Street in the North End. On a nice day, pick up a cannoli and wander over to the Paul Revere Mall to sit and enjoy it. Mike’s Pastry, at 300 Hanover Street, website, is larger and has inside seating. Modern Pastry is across the street from Mike’s, at 257 Hanover Street, website. You can’t go wrong with either one.

Inside the Faneuil Hall Marketplace “Quincy Market Colonnade” there is a large food court. This is similar to what you will find in many shopping malls, but there are many Boston-area restaurants represented, website.

Other good inexpensive restaurant options can be researched via Boston.com’s Cheap Eats web listings. For web access, click here.

Public transportation is the best way to get around the city, and if your trip spans several days, a multi-day pass may be in order. For the MBTA fare schedule website, click here. Children 11 and under are free, and junior-high and high school students are eligible for a 50% discount. You’ll need an ID and specials ticket that may not be available at all locations.

There is a fun and scenic ten minute Water Shuttle ride across the inner harbor between Long Wharf (by the Chart House restaurant and the Aquarium – near Faneuil Hall and the Old State House) and the Charlestown Navy Yard (near the USS Constitution). It is part of the MBTA system – the single ride fare is only $3 for adults, with children (2 per adult) free. It is the F4 route, the website, map, and downloadable schedule is here.

Definitely pick up a free CharlieCard, website here. The CharlieCard is a reusable and re-loadable plastic ticket for use on the MBTA. You can get a CharlieCard at transit stations and many MBTA ticket counters by asking a Service Agent. By showing the card, you receive discounts on attractions such as FreedomTrail.org tours, Boston Duck Tours (a fun way to spend an afternoon), and various restaurant discounts. To learn what discounts are available, download the CharlieCard discount booklet here.

There are various discounts available from the MassVacations.com. To find out what might be available, click here.

CityPASS for Boston is similar to the Go Boston Card mentioned above, but as of now, it only offers entrance to five attractions (the New England Aquarium, the Museum of Science, Skywalk Observatory, the Museum of Fine Arts, and one entrance to the Harvard Museum of Natural History or Revolutionary Boston at the Old State House). If you plan to visit several of these, it may be worthwhile. For more information, click here.

Restaurant.com is a good source for restaurant coupons, but be sure to read the fine print. Search for “Restaurant.com coupon codes” as they often run discounts from their normal rates. For the Restaurant.com Boston area website, click here.

Parking is expensive, but there are a few bargains to be had around the Charlestown Navy Yard. Park there and walk or take the Water Shuttle to the downtown sites. The Nautica Garage at 88 Constitution Road, directly across from the Navy Yard’s entrance, has discounted rates if you get your ticket validated at the National Park Service Visitor Center (where you enter to visit the USS Constitution).

Closer to the downtown sites, there are a few all day parking specials near the Aquarium on Atlantic Avenue, but most require that you enter early (before 8:30 AM) and leave after 4 PM. Some competitive rates can be found on Commercial Street in the North End. If you are driving, an internet search to identify your options is encouraged. The Parkopedia website is a good place to start your search.

For up-to-the-minute budget tip information, please reference the supplementary information website, here.



Hope these tips and tricks help. If you find other ideas, please email meand I’ll include them in an update.

What is The Freedom Trail?

Freedom Trail Logo Boston

Welcome to The Freedom Trail

The Freedom Trail is the largest attraction in New England, with over three million visitors a year. It is fun, walkable, accessible, family-friendly, engaging, and a bargain. You can see it in 1/2 a day, or spend several days and still want more.

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And, Boston has everything you might want in a destination – world class museums, fantastic restaurants, shopping, sports, music, theater and history. It’s a unique and charming place that can feed almost any passion. There are great options for almost any budget, even a bargain lobster lunch.

So, what is it? The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile red brick path  (mostly brick – some lines are painted) that connects 16 significant historic sites, referred to as “Stops” throughout this blog.  The Trail starts at Boston Common and officially ends at the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown.

Most of the Stops are free and many are handicapped accessible, but some may be difficult to navigate for non-walkers. For the few that charge admission, there are discounted tickets available.

The original idea for The Freedom Trail was conceived by William Schofield, a long-time journalist for the now defunct Boston newspaper, the Herald Traveler. In 1951, Schofield had the idea for a walking path that connected Boston’s great collection of local landmarks. With the support of local historians, politicians and businessmen, the Freedom Trail was born.

In addition to the official Stops, there are many “unofficial Stops” you pass as you traverse the Trail, or are very near by. Most unofficial Stops are directly associated with Revolutionary Boston and The Freedom Trail, but some are simply interesting places.  Many folks include them in their Freedom Trail visit.

So, how should you plan for your visit, and for how long? The posts on Planning to Tour, Part 1 and Part 2, will give you an overview of all the official Stops, a sense of how long it takes to visit each, and alternative itineraries for 1/2, full and two day tours. Use this free custom Google Map to help visualize your visit – it is practically a full blown self-touring guide in itself. For a complete view of The Freedom Trail, get a copy of the “Freedom Trail Boston – Ultimate Tour & History Guide – Tips, Secrets & Tricks“.

The influence Boston had on the thinking and actions that led to the American Revolution was extraordinary. Without Boston and its unique history, the American colonies break with Great Britain may have still happened, but not when and how it did. The Freedom Trail presents the essence of Revolutionary Boston and brings its amazing impact to life.

Enjoy, Boston is a unique city and The Freedom Trail is a national treasure.

The Freedom Trail Tour Planning – Part 1

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The entire Freedom Trail is only 2.5 miles long, but seeing it all in one day is difficult,  especially if you want to spend time visiting any particular Stop. To help you plan your visit, I’ve provided a quick assessment for each of the official 16 Stops, its significance to the Revolutionary period, and the recommended time needed for a visit. Where relevant, I’ve also mentioned unofficial Stops you will pass along the way.

It is highly recommended that if you have a Smartphone, download the FREE app for the iPhone, here; for Android, here. This is a tremendous resource for the Freedom Trail, or for other areas including Harvard Square, Copley Square, Lexington & Concord, and even Adams National Historical Park.  Add-on the premium content, which covers many many additional sites and auto-downloads pre-Google translated versions in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese or Japanese!

In Part 2 of this series, there are specific recommendations for 1/2, full and two day tours. Use this custom Google Map or Android app to help visualize and plan your tour.

Paul Revere Pew in Old North Church

Revere Pew in Old North Church

Stop Review:

Note: Most of the downtown (Stops 1 through 11) are close together. Walking directly  from Boston Common to Faneuil Hall is only about .6 miles (1 km) and takes less than 15 minutes.

Stop 1 – Boston Common. A great old park, but unless you want to walk around the park and enjoy the outdoors, there is not much of prime historical importance to see. There is a good playground for younger children at Frog Pond.

Stop 2 – The Massachusetts State House. There are excellent guided tours and it is a fascinating and elegant old building, Plan 1.5-2 hours to pass through security and take the tour. While it is worthwhile, there is not much relating to the Revolutionary period as the State House was built after the Revolution. Take the time to view St. Gauden’s Robert Gould Shaw & MA 54th Memorial across the street at the edge of Boston Common.

Stop 3 – Park Street Church. Closed for viewing except during the summer. Unless you take a tour, it will not take much time. There is little of primary Revolutionary significance.

Stop 4 – Granary Burying Ground. This is the final resting spot for Sam Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, Mother Goose, the Boston Massacre victims, and others. Plan about 15 minutes to walk through.

Stop 5 – King’s Chapel. Great old church usually open for viewing. Plan 15 minutes to walk through.

Stop 5a – King’s Chapel Burying Ground. The oldest in Boston, plan about 10 minutes to walk through and view the old stones. Not much of Revolutionary significance as the Burying Ground was full well before 1700.

Stop 6 – Boston Latin, Old City Hall, Franklin Statue. Everything is outside (there is no interior viewing of Old City Hall). Plan 5-10 minutes to view the outside plaques.  If you want to see the Province House steps, plan for another 5 minutes to walk up Province Street.

Stop 7 – Old Corner Book Store. You will walk by and see the house, which now houses a Chipotle Mexican Grill. Nothing to tour.

Stop 8 – Old South Meeting House. Plan 1/2+ hour to view inside and the exhibits. The Meeting House is interesting given the number of important Revolutionary-era meetings that took place here. There are interpretive exhibits that place the building and its events in history and a good three dimensional map of Revolutionary-era Boston that highlights key locations – fascinating given the city’s changing topology. Check their web site for other programs. Benjamin Franklin’s birthplace and the Irish Memorial are directly across the street and are quick to see.

Stop 9 – Old State House. The Old State House features excellent docent-given tours and talks that cover the building and Revolutionary events. The museum has some good displays and exhibits. Plan about an hour to visit and take a tour. Highly worthwhile.

Stop 10 – Boston Massacre Site. This is a plaque embedded in the street directly below the balcony of the Old State House. This is a walk-by with a photo opportunity.

Stop 11 – Faneuil Hall. This is a great old and important building. Go inside and enjoy a Ranger-led talk (given every 30 minutes). Plan for 30-45 minutes to visit the Hall. The Faneuil Hall Marketplace (Quincy Market) is located next door, and is a good place to stop, get something to eat or shop. Plan accordingly. The new National Park Service visitor center is located in the first floor of Faneuil Hall.

Note: From Faneuil Hall, it is a 15 minute walk to the next official Stop, the Paul Revere House, in the North End. On the way, you pass some interesting unofficial Stops in the Blackstone Block area – the Holocaust Memorial, Union Oyster House, Marshall Street, and the Ebenezer Hancock House. The Blackstone Block is also a good, less commercial place to take a break or to eat. Some of the local restaurants feature good lobster specials at lunch.

Stop 12 – Paul Revere House. Built in 1680, it is the oldest structure remaining in Boston. It is a good example of a period dwelling and you will gain insights into Paul Revere’s life. The costumed docents provide interesting descriptions of the house and the Revere family. Visiting is worthwhile, but the house is small, consisting of only four rooms. Plan for about 1/2 hour.

Note: It is about a 10 minute walk through the North End to the next stop. The North End is also an excellent place to stop for lunch. It has a very European feel and many wonderful restaurants.

Stop 13 – Old North Church. A beautiful and important church, the oldest remaining in Boston. A walk through takes about 15 minutes. Purchase the $1 pamphlet that illustrate the highlights.

Stop 14 – Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. An 5 minute walk up hill from the Old North Church. Plan about 10-15 minutes to walk through the Burying Ground. There are a few interesting graves, a headstone used by the British for target practice, and a nice view of the harbor.

Note: From here there is another 15+ minute walk across the bridge to Charlestown and the next Stop, the USS Constitution.

Stop 15 – USS Constitution and the Charlestown Navy Yard. Visiting the Constitution and the Museum can easily be a half day visit. For the Constitution alone, plan at least an hour to pass through security, view the small museum and take the guided tour of the ship. The very good USS Constitution Museum (different from the small museum attached to the Constitution), is worth another hour. A walk around the USS Cassin Young will take another 1/2 hour. Walking around the Navy Yard area is also a pleasure, and there are a few restaurants in the neighborhood. This is a highly worthwhile 1/2 day, especially for children, who will enjoy exploring the ships.

Note: There is another 15 minute walk between the Charlestown Navy Yard and the Bunker Hill Monument and Museum. For a historic lunch, try the Warren Tavern, which is only a short detour between the two sites.

Stop 16 – Bunker Hill Monument. To tour the monument area, plan about 15-20 minutes, unless you plan to make the 294-step ascent to the top. That is a fun activity and provides a spectacular view of Boston and the surrounding area. If climbing the Monument, plan 1/2 hour. To visit the Bunker Hill Museum, which is excellent and best seen before the monument, plan another 1/2 to full hour. The museum features exhibits on the battle and Charlestown history, and has ranger-guided programs – great for children. If you have time, visit the Museum before the Monument. Highly recommended.



Freedom Trail Boston Video Virtual Tour in 5 Minutes

A 5 minute comprehensive video walk through of The Freedom Trail, it features all the 16 official Freedom Trail Stops, more than 50 unofficial Stops, historic restaurants, and other interesting places in and around The Freedom Trail – all included in theFreedom Trail Boston – Ultimate Tour Guide – Tips, Secrets & Tricks eBook. It moves fast as it contains almost 150 photos and video segments, so keep your pause key handy if you want to view anything in detail. A must see for anyone visiting The Freedom Trail and Colonial Boston.

The video was created as a companion to the  eBook “Freedom Trail Boston – Ultimate Tour and History Guide,” now available on Amazon.com. The Guide covers all of the sites in the video and more. In addition to any touring information the reader might need, the Guide provides detailed historical context from the time of Boston’s founding through events like the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s Ride, the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and the Charles Bulfinch era. In short, it contains everything someone might want to know to visit and enjoy The Freedom Trail and Revolutionary Boston.

For a companion map to the video, see my custom Google Map posting. The map includes everything in the video.

Enjoy the video!

Boston’s North End – More Than “Little Italy,” A Brief History

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Most people know the North End as Boston’s Little Italy. But, Italians did not start moving into the North End in any significant number until the 1880’s – some 260 years after the North End’s earliest residents. The Italians were only the last of a series of ethnic groups to inhabit this area of Boston.

Boston's North End

Entering Boston’s Historic North End

Originally, the North End was a suburb for the Puritan families who migrated to Boston during the 1630’s. At that time, the North End was isolated, virtually an island surrounded by water on three sides, connected to the rest of Boston by a small neck of land.

Over time, was the land connecting the North End to Boston was filled-in, but the North End remained geographically isolated until the completion of the Big Dig in 2007. In recent history, and prior to the Big Dig’s completion, easy entry to the North End was blocked by the elevated Central Artery (Route 93).

By the mid 1640’s the North End had evolved into its own distinct community. By 1649, it was large enough to have its own church, the North Meeting House (later called Boston’s Second Church).

In 1659, the North End established its own Burying Ground, Copp’s Hill. Copp’s Hill took its name from William Copp, a shoemaker who had owned once owned the land. Copp’s Hill was also home to a free black population, many of whom are interred in the Burying Ground.

North Square boston

North Square – Looking at Site of Second Meeting House

The area around the North Meeting House developed into North Square, which quickly became the center of North End life. At that time, North Square was only one block from the harbor.

Increase Mather, the minister of the North Meeting House, had his home in North Square. It, along with the Meeting House and a number of surrounding buildings, was destroyed in the fire of 1673. The Meeting House was rebuilt and subsequently torn down by the British and used for firewood during the Siege of Boston between 1775 and 1776.

Paul Revere House in North Square

Paul Revere House in North Square

The Paul Revere house was constructed in 1680 where Mather’s home had once stood. Revere purchased it in 1770 and lived here until the 1780’s, when he moved a few blocks away to a house with a harbor view. The Pierce / Hitchborn house, next door to the Revere House, was built around 1711. These houses, along with the Old Corner Book Store and Old State House are the oldest remaining structures in Boston.

The opulent Clark-Frankland and Hutchinson mansions were build just off of North Square after 1710. Hutchinson’s mansion was gutted in 1765 in protest over the Stamp Act. Both the Clark-Frankland and Hutchinson mansions were torn down in 1834 to allow for street widening.

In 1890, Rose Fitzgerald (Kennedy) was born at 4 Garden Court Street, just across the street from where the Hutchinson mansion had stood. Rose later married Joseph P. Kennedy and was the mother of President John F. Kennedy, and Senators Robert and Edward Kennedy. There is a plaque marking the site of her birth on Garden Street just off of North Square. In the mid 1800s, North Square was also home to two Bethels – churches specifically built to minister to the needs of sailors.

Paul Revere & Old North Church

Paul Revere Statue w/View of Old North Church

In 1721, the construction of the Anglican Christ Church (Old North) began and was completed in 1723. In 1775, the Christ Church belfry was used to hang the “two if by sea” lanterns that warned Patriots of the British march on Lexington and Concord and was the start of Paul Revere’s Ride.

The Charles Bulfinch designed New North Congregational Church on Hanover Street was built between 1802 and 1804.  The Church was originally Congregationalist, but it switched to Unitarian in 1813.  It was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston in 1862. It is the last Bulfinch designed church standing in Boston.

After the American Revolution, the North End began transitioning to a largely working class neighborhood with the influx of labor associated with the shipping industry. Wharfs and warehouses were built to support maritime trade and shipbuilding. And, along with the often drunken and violent sailors, came the requisite gamblers, whores and criminals. To proper Bostonians, it became a dangerous slum, a place to be avoided.

From early on there was an Irish population in Boston. Their numbers were small, but grew to about 7,000 by 1830. The Irish population really swelled during the Great Potato Famine when a reported 13,000+ Irish moved to Boston during 1847 alone. The North End was their primary destination.

By 1850, over half the North End’s population of 23,000 was Irish. This peaked at about 15,000 in 1880. With the influx of new ethnic groups, many of the Irish moved to the South End. By 1890, North End’s Irish population had dropped to 5,000 and by the turn of the century it was down to 3,000.

In the 1870’s, the North End became home to an Eastern European Jewish population. In the early 1900s, Jews made up almost one third of the North End’s population, many settling along Salem Street. By the 1920’s, most had moved to Boston’s West and South End, then on to Dorchester, Brookline, Newton, Chelsea and Revere.

The last ethnic group to settle in the North End was the Italians. Immigration started in the 1860s with a small group from Genoa. This was followed by and influx from other Italian regions including Sicily, Milan, and Naples. Each regional group settled in its own distinct North End enclave.

By 1900, the North End Italian population had reached 14,000. By 1920, this number grew to 37,000, with its peak of more than 44,000 in 1930. The North End was now almost completely Italian – and very crowded.

The census puts today’s North End population at about 10,000, of which only 40% are of Italian descent. The remaining residents are a mix of young professionals, college students and others. North End politics are still dominated by Italian Americans.

The North End remains Boston’s Little Italy. It retains a wonderful and distinct “Old Word” feeling and boasts fantastic collection of new and old Italian restaurants, cafes, bakeries and markets.  It is one of the most European-feeling neighborhoods in America.

It is the oldest neighborhood in Boston.  Having existed for over 375 years, is home to some of the most important and historic venues in America as well as some of the most significant Freedom Trail sites.

For more historical information, visit this wonderful five part series by Guild Nichols.

Freedom Trail Historic Boston Restaurant Guide & Map

View Freedom Trail Boston – Ultimate Tour Map & Guide in a larger map

For those visiting the Freedom Trail and wishing the immersive experience, there are a number of historic restaurants directly on or close to the Freedom Trail.

The Google Map above displays these restaurants along with the sixteen official Freedom Trail stops and many other interesting sites on or near the Freedom Trail.  It is also available as a free Android app (iPhone/iPad versions to be available soon).

All these restaurants, sites and much is discussed in the eBook “Freedom Trail Boston – Ultimate Tour & History Guide – Tip, Secrets, & Tricks“.

BTW, none of these restaurants should be considered “fine dining,” with the possible exception of the Chart House. But, all are fun and serve good food.  And, they will absolutely enhance your Freedom Trail experience.  Most have excellent lunch specials.  Enjoy!

1654 – Green Dragon Tavern

Green Dragon Tavern Boston on Historic Marshall Street

Green Dragon Tavern on Historic Marshall Street

The original Green Dragon Tavern was a around the corner at 84 Union Street. It was founded in 1654 and an active pub by 1714. The Green Dragon was a regular haunt for the Sons of Liberty and the site of the Boston Tea Party planning meetings.  It was torn down in 1828.

The current Green Dragon incarnation is fun and has decent bar food.  It is located on Marshall Street, one of the oldest most authentically historic in Boston.  Right next door is the Ebenezer Hancock House – which built in 1767 by John Hancock’s uncle, inherited by John and then given to his brother, Ebenezer.  Ebenezer became the deputy paymaster to the Continental Army.

Special at the Green Dragon Tavern Boston

Lobster Specials at the Green Dragon Tavern Boston

Good lunch specials, including lobster.  Everyone needs at least one lobster when visiting Boston!

Green Dragon Tavern website


1742 (perhaps 1713) – Union Oyster House


Union Oyster House on Boston Freedom Trail

Union Oyster House

The Union Oyster House started serving in 1826. It is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the US.  The building, which dates from 1742 (although other references place it as early as 1713), started its life as a dress shop.  At that time, the harbor actually came up to the dress shop’s back door.  Since then, all the land you see has been filled in.

Old Bar at the Union Oyster House

Daniel Webster’s Seat at the Union Oyster House

The legendary Oyster Bar at the front of the restaurant is beautiful and historic.  Regular customer Daniel Webster sat daily at this bar and drank a tall tumbler of brandy and water with each half-dozen oysters – usually eating at least six plates.

Union Oyster House website


1760 – Chart House

Chart House Restaurant - Hancock's Counting House - 1760

Chart House Restaurant – John Hancock’s Counting House

The Chart House was originally the Gardiner House, built on Long Wharf around 1760. Later, it was John Hancock’s counting house.  It is the oldest building still in use on Long Wharf.

For the pleasant weather, it has outside seating with a great view of the harbor and downtown Boston. It is the most elegant restaurant in this collection.

Chart House website


1780 – Warren Tavern

Warren Tavern Charlestown - by Bunker Hill

Warren Tavern – by Bunker Hill

Built in 1780, the Warren Tavern was reportedly the first building raised after the British burned Charlestown during the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. It is named for Doctor and General Joseph Warren, the famous Patriot who was killed at Bunker Hill. It was visited by George Washington, Paul Revere, and Benjamin Franklin.

Warren Tavern in Charlestown - by Bunker Hill

Warren Tavern – Historic and Good Pub Food by Bunker Hill

Good pub food and great slice of history.

Warren Tavern website


1827 – Durgin Park

This iconic restaurant, housed in an old warehouse, has been around since 1827, although a restaurant has operated at this spot since 1742. Famous for its old Yankee recipes, it is a real flash from the past and one of the oldest places you can dine in Boston. Upstairs diners are seated communally at long tables with other patrons. For the pleasant weather, there is also outside seating overlooking Quincy Market.

Durgin Park Boston in Faneuil Hall Marketplace

Durgin Park Boston “a landmark since 1827”

It is a lot of fun and one of the few places you can get Indian Pudding.  The roast beef overflows the plate.  One of my favorites!

Durgin Park website


1875 – Café Marliave

Cafe Marliave by the Province House Steps

Cafe Marliave by the Province House Steps

The oldest Italian restaurant in Boston, the Marliave dates from 1875. It has pleasant outside seating for the summer months.

It located right above of the Province House Steps (1679–1864). The Province House was the official Royal Governor’s residence during the Revolutionary period.

Café Marliave website


For more information on the Province House


Freedom Trail Maps with Google Map Tour

Any visitor to the Freedom Trail and Colonial Boston will need good maps.  Here are several – all free.

The Google map below was created for the eBook Freedom Trail Boston – Ultimate Tour and History Guide. In itself, the map is almost a full tour guide and includes the essentials for all the official, as well as many interesting unofficial Freedom Trail sites. All of the Official Stops come with web-based auto-translate links that allow the user to specify the language for the post. A great feature for non-English comfortable users.

The map also provides information such as operating hours, websites, phone numbers, admission costs and handicap access notes.  There are even listings for the best historic restaurants. Here is a video post that includes all the sites listed in the map.

The map is also available as a FREE full-blown Android app, downloadable from Google Play as well as from the Amazon App Store. The app exposes all the best features of Google Maps and is, by far, the most usable way to use the map. It  performs better than using a browser, is much less awkward, and lets you keep the map easily identifiable and ready to launch.

Use it (at your own risk as travel information is subject to change), enjoy it, and please comment.  Pass the link on to your friends.

View Freedom Trail Map & Historic Boston Guide in a larger map


Next is a series of official Freedom Trail maps from the US National Park Service (NPS).  These are savable, printable,  well done and all paid for by US tax dollars.

The main Freedom Trail Map, which is the same that you will see on the NPS Freedom Trail Guide paper guide, is available here.  It is also available from The Freedom Trail Foundation here.  Additionally, there are other relevant visitor maps available from the National Park Service – for the whole series click here.  In addition to the official Freedom Trail map mentioned above, there is a less detailed Freedom Trail map with an outline of Boston’s harbor line at 1775 – fascinating for historical context.  Click here for the 1775 overlay map.  The series also includes maps for the Charlestown Navy Yard,  Boston Harbor in WW II, a map that shows walking distances between Boston sites (Boston is a very walkable city), and a guide for tour bus parking.


Paul Revere, George Washington and John Adams Face to Face at Boston MFA

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts is awesome, and it’s the only place you can see some of the most influential leaders of the American Revolution up close and personal.  John Singleton Copley’s vivid and compelling portraits of Paul Revere, Sam Adams, John Hancock and Joseph Warren are intimate and perceptive.  Gilbert Stuart’s works of George Washington are superb, and you can even see the original portrait used as the model for the U.S. one dollar bill.  This is as close as you can get to shaking hands with these leaders of the American Revolution today.

Revere’s Sons of Liberty Bowl with Copley’s Portraits of Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, & Dr. Warren

Located on the first floor of the MFA’s Art of the America’s Wing, the first thing you meet upon entering the gallery is Paul Revere’s 1768 “Son’s of Liberty Bowl.” The silver bowl was commissioned by fifteen members of the Sons of Liberty to honor the Massachusetts House of Representatives for standing up to the British after the Townshend Acts in 1767.  The chain of events set off by the Townshend Acts, and the troops Britain sent to quell the associated Colonial turbulence, was to lead inexorably to the Boston Massacre in 1770 then on to the American Revolution.

The Townshend Acts taxed imported commodities, including paper, glass and tea.  The Massachusetts House of Representatives sent a “Circular Letter” to other colonies asking for their support to protest the Acts – which resulted in boycotts of British goods by Royal colonies.  In Boston, resistance was so intense that British custom officials requested military assistance.  After the HMS Rodney, a 50-gun warship, arrived in Boston harbor, the Colonials rioted and Britain sent 4 regiments of troops to restore order. The presence of the troops led directly to the Boston Massacre.

Directly behind the bowl is Copley’s 1768 portrait of Paul Revere, painted when Revere was thirty three years old.  The portrait was unusual for the period, as it shows Revere without the traditional gentleman’s coat and wig.  (Revere’s family thought it made him look like a workman and actually hid it in the attic.)  The portrait works on many levels, both as a discerning picture of Revere and as a political statement.  Note Revere’s flaunting display of flowing linen shirtsleeves – the linen was manufactured in Boston in direct defiance of British laws.   Flanking the portrait are two cases of Revere’s silver – incredible works of art on their own.

Paul Revere’s Engraving of the Boston Massacre

On the wall to the left of Revere’s portrait you will find four important Revolutionary works, one an engraving and three Copley portraits of Boston revolutionaries.  The engraving is Paul Revere’s highly sensationalized depiction of the March 1770 Boston Massacre.  The Massacre took place after an unfortunate chain of events led British soldiers to fire on an angry Boston mob, killing five and wounding six.  Although hardly a massacre (most of the soldiers were later acquitted of blame) it was to be an important event provoking colonial unrest.  The famous engraving you see was a key piece of Patriot propaganda used to help move America closer to its break with Great Britain.

Sam Adams at 50 in 1772

Next is the 1772 portrait of Samuel Adams.  Adams is shown defiantly pointing to a petition from angry Boston citizens after the Boston Massacre.   The portrait was commissioned by John Hancock to hang in his Beacon Street mansion which was located at the southwest corner of the current Massachusetts State House site.

John Hancock at 28 around 1765

Next is John Hancock himself, painted in 1765 when he was twenty-eight.  Hancock is best known for his flamboyant signature on the Declaration of Independence, and he was a multidimensional architect of the Revolution.   A successful merchant, he was one of the richest people in America and personally funded much of the Boston-based dissension.  He was president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress (the Patriot shadow government that was formed after the Boston Tea Party in 1774), the second Continental Congress, which created the Declaration of Independence, and later served as the first Governor of the State of Massachusetts.

Joseph Warren at 24 around 1765

Further down the wall is the sensitive portrait of Dr. Joseph Warren at the age of twenty-four, also painted around 1765.  Warren was one of the most influential Patriot leaders, and served as President of both the Massachusetts Committee of Safety and the Provincial Congress.   After the April 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord, he strongly advocated going to war with Britain.  Even though he had limited military experience, he was appointed a major general.  He died fighting as a private during the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775.   John Trumbull’s painting “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill” is shown elsewhere in the exhibit.

The exhibition features a number of other Revolutionary-themed works including Copley’s 1796 portrait of John Quincy Adams, the son of John Adams and the sixth President of the United States, and John-Antoine Houdon’s 1789 portrait of Thomas Jefferson.

George Washington at 64 “The Athenaeum Portrait” – on the U.S. One Dollar Bill

The next exhibit room features some monumental works by Gilbert Stewart, including the 1796 unfinished portrait of George Washington, known as “The Athenaeum Portrait.”  This painting was used as a model for more than fifty other works, including the image on the U.S. one dollar bill.  Also displayed are Stuart’s portrait of Martha Washington and his idealized 1806 painting of Washington at Dorchester Heights.

Other Revolutionary works in the same exhibit include Thomas Sully’s 1819 huge painting “The Passage of the Delaware” and Gilbert Stuart’s 1805 painting of General Henry Knox.  General Knox led the expedition that brought the cannons used to lift the Siege of Boston.  He then became chief artillery officer of the Continental Army and later Washington’s Secretary of War.  Stuart’s 1823 portrait of John Adams, ninety at the time of the painting, rounds out the exhibit.  Look into Adams’ tired, sensitive eyes.

Stuart’s John Adams at 90

In all, the five rooms of this gallery contain a treasure of colonial furniture as well as many other important paintings from the 18th and early 19th century colonial America.   Visit and enjoy, whether you are a Revolutionary War enthusiast or not.


Photos of Paul Revere Bowl and Gallery Entrance showing Paul Revere and other Copley portraits, stevestravelguide.com – all rights reserved.

Other pictures from Wikimedia Commons – these works are considered public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of the life of the author plus 100 years or fewer.


Boston Founding Enabled by Innovative 17th Century Corporate Buy Out

Guinea from reign of Charles II

As described in my entry on Henry VIII’s influence on the founding of Boston, life in the 1620’s England was becoming very difficult for English Puritans.  This was compounded by extremely difficult economic conditions in the areas of England many Puritans called home.

One group of Puritans, led by John Winthrop, a prosperous lord of the manor of Groton, East Anglia, decided it was time to leave.  Realizing that they were unlikely to receive a land grant from the King, they had to find a way to obtain a grant via non-traditional means.  And ideally, so they could build their ideal society, the land would be free from London’s interference in their affairs.  This was a tall order.

It turns out that in 1628, King Charles had given a royal land grant to the New England Company, who represented a group of merchants who wanted to establish mines and trading posts on the Atlantic coast.  The corporate rights of the New England Company were spelled out in the “Charter of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay in New England.”  The Charter had a very interesting omission – it did not stipulate out where the governor (the equivalent of the modern day CEO) and his assistants (the board of directors and management team) were to hold their meetings.  At this time, it was standard operating practice for the management of a company to be in London, and the worker bees to be in the new world operating by remote control – across three thousand miles of stormy ocean.

The grant was for a substantial parcel of land that ran from the Merrimack River, about 40 miles north of Boston by modern day Newburyport, to the Charles River, which runs through Boston.  And, the parcel ran from “from sea to sea.”

In a move very unusual for this time period, Winthrop and his Puritan supporters bought out a controlling interest in the New England Company from the existing shareholders.  To assure themselves the ability to govern free from royal interference, they had the company transfer its management meetings from London to America.  Furthermore, they decided that only those people who were willing to leave England could become shareholders and required that existing shareholders who did not want to move to America sell their shares.  John Winthrop was elected governor and the entire operation, including the physical charter document, moved to America.

This land grant and its innovative corporate charter was the perfect vehicle to use as the foundation for the Puritans’ wide-reaching and ambitious social experiment in the new world.   It was to provide the foundation for the wide range of independent thought and action that was fundamental to the development of Boston and the philosophies leading to the American Revolution.

Guinea photo from the Classical Numismatic Group, GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or later.

Henry VIII’s Critical Influence on Boston’s Founding

There is an amazing linkage between Henry VIII (king of England from 1509 to 1547) and the founding of Boston. In his quest to produce a male heir, Henry wanted to divorce his first queen, Catherine of Aragon. The pope refused to annul the marriage, so Henry drove what became known as the English Reformation (+/-1530) by which the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. (Henry’s motives were also political, but that is another story.)
When England broke with the Catholic Church, many different Protestant sects vied for power. After Henry’s death, his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I (the Virgin Queen, reigning 1558-1603), set out to eliminate the “foolish theological quibbling” among the Protestant sects by formalizing the Church of England (Anglican Church) as the official church and instituting Penal Laws to enforce compliance.
The Church of England retained many of the trappings and hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which many English Protestants abhorred. Some dissenters joined the Church of England and worked to “purify” the church from within, becoming known as “Puritans”. Some refused to join church, and became known as “Separatists.”
Elizabeth’s successors, James I (rule 1603 – 1625) and his son Charles I (rule 1625 – 1649), made things particularly uncomfortable for the dissenters and were zealous in enforcing conformity to the Church of England. The persecution inflicted on the non-conforming Protestant approaches prodded two key groups to leave England in search of religious freedom and found settlements important to Boston history.
The first group of dissenters were Separatists, who after departing England for Holland in 1608, left for America 1620 and founded Plymouth, about 40 miles south of Boston. This group was relatively poor and agrarian.
The second group was more affluent and included sophisticated merchants and businessmen. Led by John Winthrop, they sailed from England to New England in 1630 with the ambitious mission to create a new society, a “city upon a hill” (reference from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount), that would be watched by the world. This new kind of society would balance both civil and ecclesiastical dimensions for the good of the public – guided by God and the Bible. This group landed near present day Salem, MA, about 20 miles north of Boston. They then moved south and founded Boston, named for a town near their home in Lincolnshire, England.
Would Boston have been founded if Henry had not wanted a male heir? Over time, there would have certainly been an important city at site of present-day Boston.  However, it would not have been called Boston, and it would not be close to the city we know. The Puritans, their culture, their society and even their form of governing was instrumental to the character of early Boston, the American Revolution, and lives on to this day. Thank you, King Henry.